clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

YouTube Gold: Young Dennis Johnson Was Spectacular

Before he was with the Celtics, Johnson was a brilliant talent for Seattle and Phoenix

Seattle Supersonics v Washington Bullets
Dennis Johnson during his Seattle years

Dennis Johnson reached his professional apex with the great Boston Celtics teams of the 1980’s and is perhaps best remembered for this play, where Larry Bird picked off a pass from Detroit’s Isaiah Thomas and then just balanced on the baseline, waiting for what he knew would happen: Johnson, who Bird once called the best teammate he ever had, went hard to the basket and got the pass from Bird and a stunning layup to help hold off the rise of the Bad Boy era.

If you look at Johnson on that play, he looks like a fairly average player, not particularly athletic. Part of that may be the Boston Garden, which made everyone look slow. Not exactly sure how that works, but it does. It’s a great illusion.

And in fact, Johnson was seven years into his NBA career when he got traded to Boston and his days of exuberant, joyful leaping for the sheer fun of it were behind him: he was a veteran player in Boston, and veterans learn to conserve their energy.

But he wasn’t always like that of course and it might surprise a lot of people who have seen him as a Celtic to learn that earlier in his career, Johnson was a spectacular leaper and was also the MVP of the 1979 NBA playoffs.

This guy is entirely different from the DJ that Boston knew. Watch early for his offensive goal tending call. He was incredibly dynamic. His brother Joey by the way, who didn’t stick in the NBA, had a 50” vertical. They came from a family of 16 kids, so you wonder who else inherited that sort of talent.

Bird and the Boston faithful loved Johnson, so it’s curious that he basically wore out his welcome in both Seattle and Phoenix. As he so often did though, Red Auerbach cut through a lot of crap. He knew Johnson wanted to win and he helped Boston win another pair of titles.